If you’re an elementary teacher, chances are most of your students are already very familiar with technology. But, just because they know how to use a tablet or laptop to watch Netflix, download apps, play a few games, and search for memes doesn’t mean they’ll come to classroom ready to effectively use technology for learning—that’s where they’ll need your help. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. With a bit of preparation, a little patience, and some power strips, you can help your students get comfortable with using devices and online programs in your classroom.
1. Lay down clear ground rules and expectations
While it may seem like a no-brainer, setting clear rules about how you expect students to use technology in your classroom from day one is critical. Just like you would spend time teaching any other classroom routine or desired behavior, go over your classroom guidelines for device usage, storage procedures, and “techiquette” for logging out of profiles and keeping devices clean (especially if students will be sharing devices). Have students practice how to carry devices with two hands as if they’re holding a book to their chests, talk about what is and what is not appropriate to have around a tablet (i.e., food and drinks), and where it is OK to leave a tablet (i.e., not on the floor). Go over your tech rules and expectations several times during the first few weeks of school, make sure that they’re clearly posted in your classroom, and revisit them throughout the school year.
2. Set locks/controls ASAP
Again, it may seem obvious, but it’s so important to make sure that you have the right permissions set up on each device that students will be accessing. Setting locks and controls on your devices will not only keep your students from accidentally stumbling across inappropriate websites that find their way through your school’s filters, but it will also help keep them from accidentally changing device settings (you definitely don’t want a screensaver that is a close-up picture of a student’s nostrils or a tablet displaying everything in Dutch). It might even be a good idea to explain to your students during your tech orientation why you have installed the settings you have (without necessarily telling the students what they are, in case you have any budding hackers in your class) and why it is important to keep the devices that way unless you say otherwise.
3. Discuss playtime
No matter what you do, the temptation for your students to use devices for playtime will always be there. So, if you decide to allow your students to use classroom tech for fun, be sure to have a conversation with them about the personal use of devices versus classroom use. Personal use time with devices should be kept to only a few approved sites or apps and should be limited to only specified times. It probably isn’t a good idea to let students use devices freely after they have completed assignments, as it could encourage some students to rush through their work only to play games. Instead, use personal time on devices as incentive for good scores or good classroom behavior.
4. Have a designated tech storage area
You know that devices are as expensive as they are fragile, so it’s vital to take the time to invest in a designated technology storage space in your classroom. There are plenty of cute, fun, and effective solutions using everyday items like dish racks, file storage racks, plastic drawers, and jewelry storage for devices and accessories. Keep charger cords organized with binder clips, duct tape labels, or bread ties. If your class is outlet-challenged, invest in some extension cords or power strips. You could also assign a student to check the tech area at the end of each day to make sure that everything is shipshape.
5. Be prepared for mishaps
The reality of using technology in an elementary classroom is that sometimes things will break. Devices will get dropped, water bottles with spill, headphone jacks will snap off inside of the tablet—whatever the small disaster may be, anything is possible. Even worse, though, is when your students try to fix these mini crises themselves and make the situation ten times worse. So, rather than run the risk of an “uh-oh” moment turning into an “oh-no” one, implement an “oops” procedure so that your students will know what to do when accidents happen. This will give you the chance to get a broken or buggy tablet into the right hands as quickly as possible, thus allowing hope of ending the school year with the same number of devices as when you started. Your “oops” procedure could be simply telling students to give any misbehaving devices directly to you immediately, or you could create a special cubby in your storage space for devices in need of attention—just find an approach that works for you and your students.
6. Set tech-use goals for yourself
Tech in the classroom isn’t just exciting for students—it’s exciting for teachers too! But, while at the beginning of the year, you may have a million and one different ideas on innovative ways to incorporate tech into your teaching, after a few weeks, you may find yourself reverting to old-school methods as your pretty, new devices gather dust in your tech center. Without even realizing it, it’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of the school year and put your tech-focused lesson plans aside in favor of tried-and-true traditional approaches. Rather than getting too excited and running out of steam or being overly hesitant to try new things, instead set realistic goals for yourself. Maybe you want to start teaching just one lesson a day with technology or using technology for one class project a semester—and that’s it. Or, maybe every Wednesday is “tablet day” and all of your lessons incorporate technology. It’s OK to run a few trials before you find what works for you and your students! The key is to make your classroom tech goals both measurable and realistic.
7. Strive for balance
Sometimes, using technology in the classroom will mean a device in every student’s hand, and sometimes, it will mean every student holding an old-fashioned No. 2 pencil while you present with a smartboard. The key is to find the right balance in your unique classroom. Students may fuss and question “why” when you ask them to do things offline—after all, they have probably spent their entire lives seeing computers do the same thing quickly, efficiently, and correctly every time. When you are using technology in your classroom, take time to explain the value it’s adding, along with the importance of knowing how to perform the same tasks without any tech assistance. Emphasize how these lessons will help your students use technology more efficiently and effectively in the future.
Looking for more tips to incorporate tech in your teaching? Check out this blog post on 4 Easy Ways to Integrate Technology in the Classroom!